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9/11 racial profiling: Where civil rights met national security

Lives Changed: A decade-long series of stories on those most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks.

Cameran Sadeq lost the life he'd built in America when racial profiling landed him in months of detention. His civil rights were sacrificed for perceived national security.

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The decade since has brought Sadeq what he always wanted: a big, rollicking family and a safer homeland. Indeed, stretching his linebacker-arms wide, he says his new Canadian citizenship is like having a "big mother" to protect him – a "huge gift" that has given him a passport that allows return visits to Iraq, welfare payments while he finds a new career after a construction accident injured his back, and a future for his children.

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But the decade has not healed the insult of detention – and the way it effectively ended his American life by making him penniless and a sort of pariah in the Iraqi community in Detroit, where he used to live.

And America's effect on him echoes complaints often heard in the Muslim world: a sense of distrust, misunderstanding, and as Sadeq repeats, "no one listening."

Sadeq was a casualty of one of the US's most challenging ethical moments: the crackdown on civil liberties in the national security panic following the 9/11 attacks. An untold number of American residents like Sadeq – citizens and aliens – were swept into detention based on racial profiling. Within two months of 9/11, according to a 2003 review by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, authorities "stopped reporting the cumulative totals after the number reached approximately 1,200, because the statistics became confusing."

"Middle Eastern detainees we spoke with felt as if they'd been thrown into a black hole they might never be able to crawl out of," recalls Cheryl Little, an attorney whose Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center represented many detainees.

Sadeq spent nearly five months at Miami's Krome Detention Center after he and three Iraqi companions unwittingly made a wrong turn into a restricted area at the Port of Miami. They were going to visit a cruise ship worker they knew.

Somehow, in the climate of fear after 9/11, Sadeq's social radar, hampered by beginner's English, did not pick up on the ominous signals: The terrorists were Middle Eastern, and – as he puts it now – Americans "didn't like my face."

Sadeq's attorney at the time, Michael Vastine, says the pretext for his detention was a minor paperwork technicality. After one year in the US as a refugee, Sadeq was required to adjust his visa status, and he had not yet done that. It is a violation not normally prosecuted. (Indeed, the Obama administration last month announced it would allow about 300,000 illegal immigrants facing deportation based on such technicalities to stay in the US.)

But plainclothes FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service officers used the opportunity to grill Sadeq: "Are you a terrorist?" "Do you know any terrorists?"

Sadeq explained what might be considered his pro-American credentials: In 1991, at age 17, he carried a Kalashnikov in a US-sponsored Kurdish rebellion against Mr. Hussein; his older brothers were tortured for their resistance work; and Kurds are not Arab. It offended him that they seemed not to understand.

Lives Changed: A decade-long series of stories on the recovery of those most directly affected by the 9/11 attacks.

1. A Queens schoolgirl whose parents were first responders: 2002, 2003

2. A window washer who escaped a stuck twin tower elevator: 2002, 2003

3. An investment banker who left his career to start a ground zero networking nonprofit: 2002, 2003

4. An Iraqi Kurd refugee recast as an enemy and detained because he looked like the hijackers: 2002, 2003, 2011

5. The widow of a passenger on hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 struggled to preserve - and enlarge- her family: 2002, 2003, 2011

6. A World Trade Center tenant who lost her address but added volunteerism to her career portfolio - 2002, 2003

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